Planning guide and management framework for leaders to successfully execute and sustain change, preventing 7 factors that cause 70% programs and projects to fail.
Most organizational change efforts cost more and take longer than leaders and managers anticipate; two of three transformations fail. On average, 50% of strategy executions, 70% organizational redesigns, 80% New Year’s resolutions, and 85% digital transformations fail to deliver as originally intended.
Many Theories But Few Practical Guides Exist About Leading Change
If this were a research paper, we would engage in root cause analysis and hypothesis testing, summarize the results, and develop corrective and preventive actions to address controllable causes. We will not do that. There are already over 10,000 books about change management on Amazon.com that cover this topic from many angles. Instead, we will focus on proven techniques for successfully implementing change.
Why Do Transformations Fail?
Since this is a practical post, we’ll start with the solution and learn about the theory along the way. There are many mythical causes and elaborate mechanisms to explain why most transformations fail, but in the end it boils down to the “bare bone basics” (bbb) being missing or weak. Let’s start with the most basic question, “What do you want to achieve and why?” Defining the “why” is the anchor for creating a solid Change Management Plan.
Create a Vision to Jump-Start Your Journey
Humans have a unique ability to see the future before it happens. We can visualize how we believe the world will be and begin to take action to make it happen. But how do we create a compelling vision? Keep it simple, start with the problem or pain point.
A Vision Needs a Problem as "Rocket Fuel"
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By Creating a Vision, We Highlight the Problem to Be Solved
By envisioning the end point (the future state with its potential benefits) and establishing the starting point (the current state with its associated pain), we have a clearly defined path in front of us, a gap to close, and a problem to solve. To create a compelling vision statement, we need to describe these two states as clearly as possible, using numbers and emotions, such as what is frustrating about the current state and what is really exciting about the future state, so that there is a strong desire to move in that direction.
Answer 7 Questions to Define the Situation and Context - Be Absolutely Clear or Ready to Fail
Do not fall into the trap of addressing the wrong issue or jumping into action without clearly understanding the situation and context. Only start a change program and assign resources after having answered all 7 key questions. The gathered information is essential for developing a solid deployment plan, communicating the need for change, and convincing people to get on board.
- What do we want to achieve? Define the vision, mission, goal, objective, the “must-win battle”.
- Why is it important? Why should anyone care? What is in for them? Define the incentives.
- Where to focus? Define the scope, what is included and what is excluded.
- Who is involved? Who leads and who supports? Define ownership, roles, responsibilities.
- When do we start? When to finish? Define the top 3-5 milestones and due dates.
- How do we measure success? Define 1-3 indicators (KPI’s) to measure progress and impact.
- How much do we plan to invest and expect to benefit? Define the business case.
The 4 Elements of a Change Management Plan
When developing a plan to implement change, you should consider the following four points:
1. Breakthrough Objectives: to create awareness of the change and to help people adapt by pursuing a specific goal, while tracking progress using leading metrics (KPIs) to quickly identify gaps in the change journey.
2. Clear Communication: a consistent, clear, and continuous communication throughout the change cycle, an open dialogue with employees and stakeholders about expectations and progress. The communication should be bi-directional, allowing for discussion, questions, and feedback.
3. Resistance Management: biggest challenge is the lack of buy-in, getting people involved, and adapt to a new way of thinking and working. Preparing strategies to address this resistance is key to any successful transition plan.
4. Capability Building: to help people transition from the current state to the future state, training and education is usually required. Enabling and skilling people who are affected by the change and ensure all required information is available and accessible.
Change Management Planning: The 7 Factors for Success
Change Management Planning: The 7 Reasons for Failure
The 7 Factors that Make Projects Succeed or Fail
Effective change requires Vision, Alignment, Resources, Plan, Skill, Incentives, and Communication. If any of these key success factors (KSF) is missing, the change management program will fail or fall short:
- No Vision → People are confused about the direction or the reasons for change.
- No Alignment → People resist a change that they don’t understand or disagree with.
- No resources → People are frustrated when lacking the means to move forward.
- No Plan → People don’t know where to start or what to do next.
- No Skills → People feel anxious when not having the abilities to be successful.
- No Incentives → People will not act if the change that has no clear benefits for them.
- No Communication → People who are uninformed will not take part in the change.
Vision → Prevent Confusion
Alignment → Prevent Resistance
Never assume to have the power to push through change without gaining alignment. Especially for flat organizations and self-directed teams, the underlying concept of buy-in is critical. True alignment is achieved when people leave the meeting fully on board with whatever decision the group has reached, with no “Yes-but”, no “Plan-B”, no pocket vetoes, and no reservations about fully investing themselves in pursuing the agreed upon direction as their own. The ultimate test is when those participants explain the decision and direction to their teams, ensuring full buy-in.
Resources → Prevent Frustration
Resources include the time, people, budget, information, tools, equipment to make the change happen and accomplish a goal. A lack of necessary resources leaves people frustrated: “I can’t do this because I don’t have X”. Always budget resources early in the process; build-in some flexibility to allow for unforeseen circumstances, but strictly manage the scope to avoid “scope creep” and “goal creep” that would demand additional resources and potentially derails the project or program. Check: What do we need to get it done? Do we have all required resources secured?
Plan → Prevents False Start and Course Corrections
Without a clear roadmap to implement change, gaining traction and moving forward is nearly impossible, causing false starts and frequent course corrections. It makes people feel like they are going round and round without any clear direction and without real progress, even though they are working diligently. We need an action plan to make the vision concrete and actionable. Such roadmap defines how goals are to be reached, articulates who is responsible, specifies desired results and deliverables, and lays out a timeline with specific milestones and tasks for achieving set goals. Additionally, a formal plan makes progress measurable, so problems can be identified early and corrected quickly, keeping the project on track. Check: How robust is your project plan?
Skills → Prevent Anxiety
Providing training to build required skills is important to eliminate a common reaction to change: “I don’t know how.” Lack of skills creates anxiety, and fear paralyzes people and makes them unable to move forward and perform. Therefore, start training people early in the process so that required skills are in place when needed. Check: Do people have the skills and expertise to perform and implement the change? What type of training is required?